Can I get a hearty “ehhhh” about Lost last night? It was a returning case of horrible dialogue that really did me in, and not horrible like The Vampire Diaries’ repetitive, dull horribleness – it was bad with that special breed of Lost bad dialogue that’s been floating around since season one. The primary characteristic is an overwhelming avoidance of specificity, which becomes the tip of the episode’s vague iceberg. No one says things like “whatever they think happened to you, they think it happened to someone else, too.” For any rational being you can imagine, that sentence would be, “Claire was also infected.” Also up on this list of the absurd avoidance of proper nouns: Claire’s “friend” who has been with her these past years, “someone” who is coming to the island, and “someone” who is coming to attack the temple.
"'Someone' is preventing me from actually saying anyone's name."
The problem with this, of course, is that it’s only a symptom of a bigger vagueness within the episode. Early in the show, wandering around in the jungle in search of “someone” for some reason you didn’t really understand got a pass for being mysterious and suspenseful. At this point, it’s just deliberate, unnecessary obfuscation that has the added detraction of no longer feeling fresh. We’ve seen it so many times before that the eye rolling starts to feel like a conditioned response. Even worse, at this stage of the game, any proper noun sloppiness is actually counter-productive in terms of emotional significance – maybe in the first season, “someone” was scary and effective, but by now, it would be so much more suspenseful and exciting if the characters just came out and said “Claire is infected! Desmond is coming to the island! Smokey is attacking the temple!” Maybe you’d lose a small payoff of surprise when the mysterious person is finally revealed, but those kinds of “who’s coming to the island?” surprises should no longer be the show’s bread and butter, especially when time is now so limited. And the vagueness is particularly egregious when it comes to Claire, because we already know she was “infected.” Just say it already.
My other big concern with last night’s episode was the magical lighthouse mirror. This goes much deeper into the fabric of what Lost is going to end up being by the end of this whole crazy ride, and so if this is the direction the show is going to take, it might lead me to some serious dissatisfaction.
The question is this: is Lost science fiction, or is it fantasy? It may not seem like that meaningful a distinction, especially as it’s a line Lost has been carefully obscuring throughout its whole run. It doesn’t even have that much significance on the overall makeup of the show, because science fiction and fantasy can operate in structurally identical ways. An unexplained technological phenomenon whirring along in the background works just like magic would. The distinction is more about paraphernalia than inner workings, and Lost has always aired on the scifi side, with regulated time travel, buttons to push at specific times, powerful magnetic fields, numbered experimental white rabbits, dials and compass readings, and a giant black monster that’s not a magical creature, it’s a “security system.” It doesn’t even bother me that Jacob and the Man in Black appear to be ancient, symbol-laden demigods, because science fiction and mysticism can happily walk hand-in-hand. (Star Wars! Battlestar Galactica!) Lost has always played with science fiction and mysticism, but it was always “Man of Science, Man of Faith,” not “Man of Science, Warlock With Book of Magical Spells and An Eye of Newt Around Here Somewhere.”
The one thing we did get out of the mirror business - Kate's name is on the list, and it's not crossed out yet. But because she's number 51, she's not a candidate?
With the lighthouse mirror, I think Lost steps over the other side of that line. Yeah, there’s a nice big gear that you can turn with people’s names on it, but ultimately, it’s a magical mirror, with no suggestion that it’s another machine built to harness the island’s wacky forces. Hurley does mention that they must have used a mirror because “there was no electricity back then,” but unless that glass somehow got dipped in special islandy Jacob-sauce or it’s run by magnets and tiny numbered time-travelling rabbits running around on wheels, it’s still a magic mirror mounted on a turntable. The other big example of this is Ben’s giant icy donkey wheel, which bears a suspicious likeness to the geared lighthouse system. It’s clunky and incongruent, and it hints that the path we’ll be going down from here on out is going to be less scientific Dharma experimentation, more eye of newt. I’d love for it to be an aberration, but just as with the ridiculous dialogue, we’re closing up on the finish line, and there’s very little reason to create more obstacles.
Just so this isn't all negative - I do like Claire Crazycakes Rousseau the Second over here.
Here’s hoping next week’s episode will be another “on” week, and make me forget this week like “The Substitute” helped me forget “What Kate Does.” At some point, though, too many “off” weeks are going to add up to an “off” season. In any event, I’d love to know what people think about this scifi vs. fantasy business. Is the mirror actually in character and I’m just cranky this week? Has Lost always been a fantasy show? Does the distinction carry any implications for the show’s resolution?